The first time I ever had panna cotta, I fell in love. While reminiscent of custard (think crème brûlée), panna cotta is thickened with gelatin rather than eggs, which allows the flavor of the other ingredients to really come through. It has a light and silky texture that coaxes you to let it melt on your tongue and it cries out for the kind of summer flavors from which memories are made.
I made this panna cotta with organic cherries, buttermilk, honey, and rosewater, which can be found in a Middle Eastern grocery or online. Perfect summer flavors for an uncomplicated yet sophisticated dessert.
Rosewater, Honey, and Cherry Panna Cotta:
8 ripe red or black cherries, pitted
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 C. heavy cream
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 C. buttermilk
5 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. rosewater
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Start by placing the pitted cherries in a bowl and sprinkling with the 1 Tbsp. sugar. Stir the cherries until the sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside.
Place the gelatin into a small bowl and cover with a little cold water (about 1 Tbsp.) and stir to activate the gelatin. Set aside.
Warm the heavy cream (but not the buttermilk) and honey over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring regularly. When the cream just barely begins to simmer around the edges, stir in the gelatin (it will be thick) and whisk until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add the buttermilk, rosewater, and the vanilla, and then strain in about 1 Tbsp. of the juice from the cherries, reserving the cherries themselves for a garnish. The cherry juice gives the panna cotta a nice, rosy color. Stir to combine.
Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins. It is easiest to pour if you transfer to a large glass measuring cup with a pour spout. Chill for at least 2 hours or until set. You can make the panna cotta up to 3 days in advance, just be sure to wrap the custards individually with plastic wrap once they are set.
To serve, spoon a few cherry pieces and a little juice over each panna cotta. Alternatively, you can warm the bases of the ramekins in hot water for about 15 seconds and invert the custards onto individual plates, spooning the cherries and juice on top.